Ibrahim Magu took on a big job. To be appointed as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) whether in substantive or acting capacity is the equivalent of being asked to square the circle. There are several reasons for this.
One, since the military boys left the barracks in 1966 and became untrained managers of our affairs; they made corruption a growth industry. The bloody civilians who, according to folklore, were signing cheques with their toes during the First Republic; have been quick learners in matters of converting our common patrimony into rivers of dubious wealth for themselves since 1999; when they took matters into their itchy hands.
Since then, there has been a raging uptick in matters of corruption. President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to create, by legislation, bodies that would deal with this ferocious monster. One of those creatures is the EFCC, the other is the ICPC. But the EFCC has been the more feared, the more ferocious and the more brutal of the two. These looters who had made stupendous wealth have the capacity to fight with the inexhaustible war chest in their possession.
For the EFCC men or any other anti-corruption Czars, the battle to bring such fellows to justice is no mean battle. This is because they are ready, able and willing to throw any and everything in their armoury into the fight for their survival. They have no sense of remorse and no fear of fear; simply because they are convinced that whatever that battle will need they are ready to give. They would like, actually, to be the ones subjecting the anti-corruption warriors to the incubus of fear. This is not far-fetched because if they instill fear in them they have taken their power away; the power of intimidating the richly corrupt with the fear of imprisonment.
Secondly, Nigerians may want corruption to be given a close marking. But they also want it to be done within the strict confines of the law; with the human rights of suspects respected. In a democracy, that becomes a tall order because it may involve long and laborious sessions in courts with a bank of senior advocates lining up on the side of the accused persons and dragging the case from now till eternity.
Meanwhile, as this charade goes on Nigerians expect quick results. However, since the anti-corruption officials are not magicians, they cannot produce quick results. Also, the officials concerned may, like new converts, show a lot of zeal. But zeal without results is the equivalent of fire without light. It is this zeal that leads to overzealousness as a way of showing results under very difficult conditions.
As the public becomes blood-thirsty and the government in power becomes results-thirsty, something goes wrong. The anti-corruption Czar overreaches himself and goes a tad over the top; without necessarily satisfying fully either the public or his master. That has been the case with all the past leaders of the EFCC. None of them was able to receive even a half loaf of gratitude before their tenures came to a thudding end.
Mr. Magu, the immediate past Acting Chairman of the EFCC, seems; of all of them, to have the rawest deal. He is the only one who has had to be chased in broad daylight; before being dragged to an investigation panel that was set up to look into his closet. It is a sad day for him, a shameful reversal of roles. But a good day for democracy and the battle for a better society.
The Federal Government is crowing like a cock over the Magu maelstrom; telling us that its action on Magu is proof positive that no one is above the law. Well, that is largely true. It takes a lot of courage to allow your flanks to be open for close examination in the market place. Magu was the poster boy of the government’s anti-corruption drive. If there are question marks on the way and manner he did his job; it is a better deal to give it an airing.
And that is what is happening at the investigative panel headed by Justice Ayo Salami; the retired Judge of the Court of Appeal. Justice Salami is an experienced and fair-minded judge. The expectation is that his committee will be fair to Mr. Magu and Nigeria.
Magu graduated in Accounting from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, in 1986 and worked for the Borno State Government. He joined the Police Force as a Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in 1990. He was a Coordinator of the Nigeria Police Building Society. Thereafter, he moved to the Special Fraud unit of the Criminal Investigation Department where he handled financial crimes; as well as money laundering and advanced fee fraud investigations.
Therefore, he has considerable experience in investigations which must have been aided by his knowledge of accounting. However, his nomination as Acting Chairman of EFCC by President Muhammadu Buhari seemed carcinogenic. The confirmation of Magu as substantive Chairman of EFCC was rejected by the Senate twice. This was based on a damning report written on him by the Department of State Service (DSS).
In an article I wrote for the Guardian on April 11, 2017 titled The Denouement; I had said: “As things are now Magu who appeared to have sent a chill into the spines of the treasury looters is gone. He did not make any serious effort at the hearing to defend his integrity. He simply said he did not want an inter-service disharmony. But his reputation and his career were at stake. I expected a robust defence of both. It didn’t come. The President need not send his name to the Senate for the third time. Doing so would be disrespectful to both the Senate and the Executive. Buhari should search for a gutsy but fair-minded someone to replace Magu.”
The government was clinging on to Magu for reasons no one could explain. This is in spite of the DSS report that did him no credit. If the allegations now levelled against him are true; it means that the DSS was doing the Government a favour which it failed to acknowledge. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
Mr. Magu is in the eye of a tornado. Some of the allegations levelled against him have to do with discrepancies in the figures of the EFCC and those of the Ministry of Finance on recovered funds declaration; a difference between N539 billion and N504 billion. There are also allegations of sale of seized assets to cronies, associates and friends; as well as his alleged failure to account for interest on N550 billion recovered loot. These are serious allegations but they remain that: allegations.
Magu must be given ample opportunity to respond fully to these allegations; a privilege which he audaciously denied some of the suspects who were unlucky to be in his custody. As an accountant, Magu has a working familiarity with figures. If his figures do not add up as alleged, then there is a problem.
Professor Chike Obi, the famous mathematical genius who taught at the University of Lagos in the 70s; would probably not have been able to help him. By various accounts, Magu’s methodology in dealing with suspects was crude, coarse, harsh, partisan and lacking in refinement; as well as the observance of people’s human rights. His aim was to use the fear factor as an instrument for extracting information and confession from suspects.
The human rights community had reason to raise queries on this rascally approach to the corruption fight from time to time. And part of his modus operandi was to subject suspects to media trial; usually by releasing one-sided information on them to his favourite media outlets without these people being in a position to give their own version of the story to the public. This seemed to be in accord with the strategy of the Federal Government; one which was largely to demonise and coal-tar its opponents as the looters-in-chief.
A few years ago, the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed released a list of people he described as looters. They were all members of the opposition party, PDP. But it was a very partisan and incomplete list.
To balance the equation, Mr. Reno Omokiri, a former aide to President Goodluck Jonathan; also released his own list of alleged looters and they were all members of the ruling party, APC. After that, you Daboh me-I Tarka-you exchange everything was quiet from the government sector; except that the Chairman of the Party then, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole decided to announce, shamelessly; that those in the opposition party who wanted to be saved from harassment by the anti-corruption agency should take a short walk into the governing party.
That is evidence that even with the best of intentions from the anti-corruption agency; it was certain that the government itself was only fighting that war in a half-hearted manner. Of course, realistically in a democracy where elections are funded by rich looters of the public patrimony and there is no enforceable cap on election funding, the battle against corruption is largely a fight in futility. Not much can really be achieved. Not much was really achieved.
It does appear that Nigerians may have had a palpable sense of something going wrong with the recovered loot. Several times Nigerians had asked for the worth of money recovered; what it was used for and where it was kept. The answers were not tumbling in, an indication that the story had developed K-leg. They were afraid that the funds could possibly develop some wings and fly away into the pockets of a new generation of looters. If Magu’s figures are not equal to those of the Ministry of Finance, then the flight has taken place.
It does appear that the EFCC since its inception was not ready to stay within the confines of its mandate. It deviated and roamed away from its mandate items into the arena of partisan politics. In some of the impeachment episodes of some Governors over the years; the EFCC got its fingers soiled and lost the independence and impartiality that ought to confer on it public respect and dignity. It seemed happy to swim in the murky waters of partisan politics.
And when Dr. Bukola Saraki, President of the 8th Senate got elected against the party’s preference; the EFCC not only pursued him viciously. They also went after his wife, Toyin and pulled her in for questioning. This was barefaced harassment, the import of which was not lost on the public. So the EFCC has over the years been digging its own grave with its own hands; straying into areas that brought it no dignity or public respect.
Because of its enormous powers and its ability to terrorise people almost without restraint; it drifted into the realm of licentiousness. At a point, it allowed itself to be involved in petty debt collection and miniscule housekeeping problems; notably between enstranged spouses or quarrelling business partners. By the time that Magu was suspended, the institution’s credibility was severely stretched.
The new leadership of EFCC must start with a programme of nose-cleaning, before it begins a serious retooling process and work on a moral rearmament programme to restore the badly shaken confidence in the organisation. If it does not bring back that muscular morality with which its Establishment Act clothed it; then it is a dead horse. That will be sad, very sad.